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Down in Flames: Aces High» Forums » Reviews

Subject: a brief review of a really fun game rss

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Dan Poole
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Note this is not meant to be an exhaustive, pedantic, tiresome review. It is not a painful regurgitation of the rulebook. This is meant to go over the highlights of the game and my opinion for whatever it is worth.

Down In Flames - Aces High is a card game recreating WWII aerial dogfights in both the Europe and Pacific theaters. I consider this a 2 player game, though the game accommodates more players by way of team play. The game can be played as simple dogfights, though in my opinion, the game really blossoms when playing the campaigns which are a series of bombing missions.

The game comes with 2 types of cards. There are plane cards of various nations (US, UK, Ge, Japan, Ru, Poland). Most of these planes are fighters, though each nation also has some bomber cards. The main "engine" of the game is the Action card deck. These cards are played out of your hand in order to power your aircraft. Your aircraft cards, in turn, are positioned relative to enemy aircraft on the table which represents the sky. The game also comes with various informational chits, campaign map sheets, rules, and a mission log.

The Dogfights
Whether playing a bombing campaing or just straight up dogfights, fighter to fighter combat represents the gist of the game. Dogfights can be one on one or represent multiple fighters. In short, each fighter allots a player a hand of cards. The number of maximum cards in a hand is represented by the Performance value of that fighter. If a player has multiple fighters, he will have a separate hand for each. During the turn (see below), fighters can change altitudes and try to maneuver in on enemy fighters. Then certain Action cards can be played which will incur various number of hits upon the enemy fighters. The enemy can react by playing a card to negate the attacker's card. The attacker can then play a card to negate this card and so on. Playing attack cards upon an enemy costs points in the form of bursts. While some fighters have an inherent burst of 1, many fighters have no inherent bursts. Bursts are gained by maneuvering in on enemy fighters; there are 5 stations a fighter can be relative to another fighter (in order of advantage):

Tailing: Your fighter has +3 Bursts
Advantaged: Your fighter has +1 Burst
Neutral: 0 Bursts (can only attack if your fighter has an inherent burst)
Disadvantaged: Your enemy is advantaged upon you
Tailed: Your enemy is tailing you

These stations are represented by placing the fighter cards on the table in certain positions relative to each other. (i.e. if a plane is being tailed, the enemy is placed behind that fighter)

A Game Turn
1. Draw Cards: draw a number of cards equal to that fighter's pre-turn horsepower rating. This may be modified by altitude
2. Adjust Altitude: Planes can only attack each other at the same altitude. Going higher costs a card; going lower gains a card. As mentioned above, your altitude may modify your card draw.
3. Speed manuevering: a faster fighter may try to improve his station relative to a slower enemy. This can be negated by playing certain cards by the enemy.
4. Actions: Maneuvering can be further attempted by playing most action cards. All action cards have a maneuver value which can be used in lieu of the card's intended action. Once a fighter is in position, attack cards can be played by paying the burst cost as mentioned above. The enemy can react by playing action cards that match the text (in the React section of the card) of the attacker's card. This can go back and forth until a player cannot or does not want to play a card. When a plane takes hits, it may become damaged (turned over) and then possibly destroyed.
5. Discard: optional. Do this to get rid of unwanted cards, since there is a hand limit for each plane.
6. Draw Cards: Draw card equal to the fighter's post-turn horsepower rating. This may be modified by altitude.

That is the gist of a turn and gives some idea in to the mechanics of dogfighting. To summarize, maneuvering is important in order to gain bursts. Conversely, it is important to try and get out of poor positions (disadvantaged and tailed). So a major decision is whether or not to play cards for their maneuver number, or play them for their action, or save them to be able to react to your opponent's actions.

The Bombing Campaigns
On the Map sheets are available bombing missions for the axis and allied players. The player with the initiative gets to be the bombers (attackers). If the attacker destroys the selected target, then he gets tthe initiative for the next mission; otherwise the defender then becomes the attacker. Each campaign has a certain number of missions that are played. There are 6 campaigns: Midway, Guadalcanal, Battle of Britain, Poland, Stalingrad and Daylight Bombing.

The attacker gets a certain number of bombers, which the defender tries to maneuver in on them and consequently shoot down before the allotted number of turns. Surviving bombers drop their bombs and either damage or destroy the target based on the number of bombs each surviving bomber has. Note if the target is neither damaged nor destroyed, the defender gets victory points (vp's) instead. The bomber player will usually have a fighter or two to accompany the bombers, so the defending player has to determine whether to go for the bombers or fighters. Attacking a bomber is a little different. Bombers don't get a hand of cards until they are targeted. At that point, they draw a hand equal to their turret defense and adjacent bomber's turret support (this bomber formation is laid out at the beginning of the mission). Bombers can usually only play attack cards in reaction to cards played upon them.

In addition, flak patterns are determined before a bombing mission. Furthermore, each player gets to secretly pick an option at the beginning of each mission. These options may include extra planes, extra bombs, weather changes that lengthen or shorten the missions, ace pilots, fuel shortages etc.

That is a thumbnail sketch of the game. It certainly is not an exhaustive regurgitation of all the rules. Nonetheless, the rules are not complicated,though I did have a couple questions which were promptly answered here.

My Overall Impressions

Theme 9: The game play certainly matches the theme pretty well. I like the back and forth nature of act - react cardplay. That does give you the feel of planes actually trying to out maneuver each other.

Mechanics 8: Though abstracted into card play, I do like the feel of the game as mentioned above. Though I did not go into huge detail, I really enjoy the bomber and flak mechanics.

Strategy 7.5: Though luck is always a factor knowing when and how to play your cards is imperative, since cards can be used for different purposes: Act, React, Maneuver. So if you are being tailed, do you play cards for their maneuver points to get in a better, safer position? Do you save them to be able to react to your enemy? Do you dive or climb to try and shake your enemy? If you are the defender, do you go after the bombers outright, or do you try and take down the fighter escort first? Which option do you select for your mission? Some are much better than others, but each option can only be selected once per game. Do you select a deadly bombing pattern? If you do, you are more prone to flak hits. Speaking of that, does the defender pick a more deadly flak pattern? If so it is actually more likely to miss.

Rulebook 9: Very nice with lots of pictues and examples. As mentioned above I had a couple questions, since things can get a little sticky when more than 2 fighters are all chasing each other around.

Astheics/Component Quality 7.5: Though not a beautiful game with dazzling bits, I really like the artwork on all the cards, especially the planes. The Campaign Sheets are not breath-taking yet they are colorful and very functional. The cards are nice, the chits are like any other chits I suppose, though the artwork on them is colorful. The box is nice. I really like the large box size, since it easily accommodates the cards after sleeving them.

Verisimilitude 4.5: This is certainly not meant to 100% recreate fighter simulation, which is fine by me. There are other more laborious complex wargames that recreat air combat of WWII. Nonetheless, I think this game is so much more fun because of its simplicity.

Overall Fun Factor 8.5

I really like this game. Sure its not a complex recreation of WW II aerial combat, but who cares? I really like card games in general, and this game is simply fun fun fun. Its fast paced with lots of tough decisions. I always play the bombing campaigns rather than just playing simple dogfights because the bombing missions add so much more to the game. I really recommend this to anyone who likes fast paced 2-player card games, even if they are not a fan of wargames per se. Though this game be played with more than 2, I consider it mainly a 2-player game. I would recommend sleeving the cards. I also laminated the Campaign Sheets and mission log. A chit storage tray would also be helpful though not necessary, since there is not a huge number of chits. This would make a good travel game, since it does not require a lot of space. There is no board. You just need a surface for the planes and somewhere to put the Bombing Campaign sheet.

Pros:
- Easy To learn
- High replay value
- Does not take too long to play
- Has optional rules to specifically tailor the game to your likes
- Makes a great travel game
- Fun Fun Fun

Cons:
- Cards should be sleeved (not really a con if you don't mind sleeving)
- Some of the rules regarding multiple fighters may get a little sticky

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Dan Verssen
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Thank you for posting your impressions!
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Dan Poole
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definitely my pleasure. Thanks for all the great games!!
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Richard Hoover
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I'll probably get destroyed for asking this but is this game really worth the $40 plus it sells for?

[I've been looking at this and Modern Naval Battles but have been somewhat stalled by the prices ... wondering if there are games that offer equal or more bang for much better buck]
 
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Dan Poole
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I think the production quality is very nice. The cards are high quality. As for being worth $40, that is obviously tough to say. I understand that for a card game that is a little high I personally feel it was well worth it.



Race for the Galaxy lists for $27.99 at Funagain. Contents:
•5 start world cards
•109 game cards
•4 sets of 7 player action cards
•8 cards for experienced two player game
•4 summary sheets
•28 victory point chips



San Juan lists for $23.99 at Funagain. Contents:
•110 cards:
◦42 production buildings
◦68 violet buildings
•5 role placards
•5 trading house tiles
•1 score pad & pencil
•rules

With Down In Flames, you get 220 cards, 176 counters a really nice rulebook and some campaign maps. Based on comparisons with other card games, it may be a little high but not much. I think it's worth it because to me, it is a really fun, unique game. My wife really likes it too, so that helps
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Drake Coker
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Rock Photo Star wrote:
I'll probably get destroyed for asking this but is this game really worth the $40 plus it sells for?

[I've been looking at this and Modern Naval Battles but have been somewhat stalled by the prices ... wondering if there are games that offer equal or more bang for much better buck]


Part of the deal too, is that the economics for a small, specialty publisher are just different. Small volume has to translate to higher price just to make it work out at all. At least the components are decent quality!

Is it worth $40? Depends how much you like flying games It's a good game though, definitely worth it if you like the genre and want something fast and fun.

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Richard Hoover
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That's a really unfair comparison. Funagain usually has things at Mfg. suggested retail price or slight discounts. San Juan and Race for the Galaxy can be brought for much lower at plenty of places.

Much more fairer price comparison:


THOUGHT HAMMER
Race for the Galaxy: 24.47
San Juan: 17.47
Down in Flames - Aces High: 41.99 [if funagain carried, they likely sell closely to its MSRP of almost $50]
 
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Yiannis Avramandis
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The price is just fine.
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Blue Fox
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Boards and Bit's has it for $38, which I think around 40$ seems better suited, but small publishers are different.
 
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Jay Sheely
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Or one can buy it used for $17.

I looked at it on the used shelf for 3 months and then the '25% off' sign went up for all used games. Easy decision.
 
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Roger McKay
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Rock Photo Star wrote:
I'll probably get destroyed for asking this but is this game really worth the $40 plus it sells for?

[I've been looking at this and Modern Naval Battles but have been somewhat stalled by the prices ... wondering if there are games that offer equal or more bang for much better buck]


As a big WW2 air combat fan, I really enjoyed my recent first play of this game. For me, the high number of aircraft types and the campaign rules make it well worthwhile.

I do think that the game is too complex to be fun for anyone who isn't a fan of the subject matter.
 
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